21 October 2015

Excerpts from the Synod's English Group Reports

Here are some excerpts from the reports of the English-speaking discussion groups at the Synod of Bishops. I chose specifically those sections related to the Kasper proposal and the question of homosexuality. Aside from these, one promising feature of the reports is the suggestion that marriage preparation and catechesis needs to be overhauled and replaced by something better designed to counteract the "anti-catechesis" being given in the surrounding culture.


ENGLISH GROUP A:

We also took up certain proposals for accompanying those who are divorced and civilly remarried. We supported the recent efforts to streamline the process of nullity to make it more accessible without changing the Church’s teaching. The majority without full consensus affirmed the current teaching and practice of the Church regarding the participation in the Eucharist of those who are divorced and civilly remarried. We acknowledged that this pathway may be difficult, and pastors should accompany them with understanding, always ready to extend God’s mercy to them anew when they stand in need of it.

A majority without full consensus also affirmed that pastoral practice concerning reception of the Sacrament of the Eucharist by those divorced and civilly remarried ought not to be left to individual episcopal conferences.To do so would risk harm to the unity of the Catholic Church, the understanding of her sacramental order, and the visible witness of the life of the faithful.

We spoke of the importance of pastoral attention to persons with homosexual tendencies, with special attention to families in which a person with same sex attraction is a member. The Church as the spouse of Christ patterns her behaviour after the Lord Jesus whose all-embracing love is offered to every person without exception. Parents and siblings of family members with homosexual tendencies are called to love and accept these members of their family with an undivided and understanding heart. We call on the synod to affirm and propose anew the entirety of Church teaching on love and chastity. We encourage parents and family members to have confidence in it as they love and accompany one another in responding to the Gospel’s call to chaste living.


ENGLISH GROUP B:


On the subject of the admission of divorced and remarried to the sacraments, the group would request that the Holy Father, taking into account the rich material which has emerged during this synodal process, consider establishing during the Jubilee Year of Mercy a Special Commission to study in depth the ways in which the disciplines of the Church which flow from the indissolubility of marriage apply to the situation of people in irregular unions, including situations arising from the practice of polygamy.


ENGLISH GROUP C:


With regard to those divorced and civilly remarried, we agreed that relationships of many kinds come under this heading. There was general agreement that we needed to provide more effective pastoral accompaniment for these couples, and especially perhaps for their children who also have rights. There was, however, little enthusiasm for what the Instrumentum Laboris calls “a penitential path”. On the question of whether there should be further study of the question to see if the Church could move in this direction, the vote was evenly divided. In the end we voted to replace paragraphs 122-125 with an affirmation of the Church’s current discipline and recommended the forms of participation mentioned in Familiaris Consortio, 84.

The group was also divided on the question of support for families with homosexual members and for homosexual people themselves. Some wanted to delete any reference to homosexuality, but this won little support in the group. We opted for a briefer treatment, but also asked that the final document include at an appropriate point a clear statement of Church teaching that same-sex unions are in no way equivalent to marriage. We were clear, however, that in this Synod we were not addressing homosexuality in general but within the context of the family. We were equally insistent that we address this issue as pastors, seeking to understand the reality of people’s lives rather than issues in some more abstract sense.


ENGLISH GROUP D:

The group had a long exchange on pastoral approaches to divorced people who had not remarried, and also divorced people who have married again without an annulment. Members voiced significant concern that whatever is done should not lead to greater confusion among our people. One bishop said that the issue of admitting divorced and remarried persons without an annulment to Communion was such a vital matter of doctrinal substance that it could only be handled at an ecumenical council and not at a synod.

One of the synod fathers stressed the importance of using appropriate language. Instead of referring to people in difficult situations as being “excluded” from the Eucharist, we should say that they “abstain” from the Eucharist. That word is more accurate and not as negative. One father mentioned that bishops cannot be more merciful than Jesus’s words. The Lord is not bound by Church rules, but the Church is very much bound by the words of Jesus.

Some thought that the current text lacks an understanding of the Eucharistic foundation of Christian marriage, which says we cannot reduce marriage to a sexual relationship. Likewise, we can’t reduce life in the Church to receiving Communion. In the history of the Church huge segments of the faithful did not receive Holy Communion and yet were clearly considered members of the Church, beginning with the Catechumens. For those who are on a penitential path, they are not excluded from the Church even though they abstain from Communion. Other fathers thought that the number of people who are divorced or remarried without an annulment has grown in such a big way that we need to deal with this question in a new and different manner.

Members spent quite a bit of time talking about the beauty and comprehensiveness of No. 84 of Familiaris Consortio. Some suggested that FC 84 ought to be put directly into the text. One father spoke about the power of the keys and the Holy Father’s ability to change things. He said that the Pope can, in effect, twist the hands of God. Others responded that the power of the keys does not give the Church the ability to change Revelation and the faith of the Church.

One member of the group felt that the Church has forgotten Jesus in all this discussion and that the bishops and many laypeople may be perceived as Pharisees. There was a call for a commission to study the issue of Communion for the divorced and remarried over a longer period of time with greater theological precision."